In March 2021, Virginia lawmakers passed a law that made it illegal for police officers to stop drivers for minor offenses, such as broken taillights. The goal of the law was to reduce racially motivated traffic stops.
Since the law passed, the number of traffic stops has declined, but racial disparities persist.
What the law says
The law downgraded a variety of minor offenses to secondary infractions. As a result, police can ticket drivers for these offenses if they stop them for some other valid reason, but they can not stop someone solely because of one of these infractions. The list of downgraded infractions includes:
- Broken brake or tail lights
- Expired inspection stickers
- Darkly tinted windows
Additionally, the law made it illegal for officers to search a vehicle solely because they smelled marijuana.
Impact of the law
According to the most recent report, traffic stops in the state declined by 7.5% and traffic stops that resulted in a search dropped from 3.8% in 2020 to 2.4%. However, the racial disparities in traffic stops that prompted the law did not change as much as lawmakers hoped.
While the number of Black drivers stopped and searched decreased from 5.2% to 2.8%, the number of Black drivers stopped was almost unchanged. The report found that while 19% of the drivers in Virginia are Black, these drivers accounted for 31% of traffic stops.
Critics of the bill claim it creates safety concerns for motorists. The current state legislature is attempting to repeal the law.